Hatrack River
Hatrack.com   The Internet  
Home   |   About Orson Scott Card   |   News & Reviews   |   OSC Library   |   Forums   |   Contact   |   Links
Research Area   |   Writing Lessons   |   Writers Workshops   |   OSC at SVU   |   Calendar   |   Store
Print this page E-mail this page RSS FeedsRSS Feeds
What's New?

Uncle Orson Reviews Everything
November 3, 2011

First appeared in print in The Rhinoceros Times, Greensboro, NC.

Trick or Treat, English Thuggery, Dear Blank

When I was a kid, there were no adults out on Halloween -- they were all at home, manning their doors, passing out candy.

Kids ruled the streets, and children who were too young to go alone were escorted by older siblings.

Then we started to believe our own spooky urban legends, fearing villains who never existed: the guy who put razor blades in apples, the guy who put LSD on hard candies, and handed them out to neighborhood children.

These events never happened in the real world, except when sick parents did it to their own children, pretending it was done by someone from the neighborhood, in hopes of getting their faces on the news.

Yet because of them, we stopped letting our children loose in the neighborhood.

Now we're used to the idea of parents in the shadows, watching over their little ones as they come to the door and beg.

But this year we saw something new: parents who not only came up onto the porch with the kids, but also held out their own bag for candy.

It's one thing to carry a bag into which you periodically dump the contents of the little one's tiny treat basket.

But when your big bag is held out in addition to the child's bag, you've crossed a line.

For that matter, even when they're friendly and cheerful, I find myself irritated at big hulking teenagers who are intruding into a children's event.

You big teenagers may think people don't mind because they still give you candy. But what else can they do? If they refuse because you're too old to be trick-or-treating, they're afraid of what you might do to their property to punish them.

If the adults are actually afraid to refuse to give you candy, you're too old to be trick-or-treating in the first place. It becomes an obnoxious form of begging that borders on extortion, instead of a children's holiday.

Here are some guidelines for those who aren't sure whether their trick-or-treating days should be over:

If your voice has changed, you might be too old to trick-or-treat.

If you're pregnant with a future trick-or-treater, you might be too old to trick-or-treat.

If you have a driver's license, you might be too old to trick-or-treat.

If you can touch the top of the door without standing on tiptoe, you might be too old to trick-or-treat.

If you can go as a hobo simply by not shaving that morning, you might be too old to trick-or-treat.

If you're worried about what all that sugar is going to do to your teeth, you might be too old to trick-or-treat.

If you can buy alcohol without showing i.d., you might be too old to trick-or-treat.

If you no longer say, "Eeew, yucky," when people kiss in the movies, you might be too old to trick-or-treat.

If you have serious cleavage, you might be too old to trick-or-treat.

If your braces have come off because your orthodontia is finished, you might be too old to trick-or-treat.

If you've already given away your Barbie collection, you might be too old to trick-or-treat.

If you're trick-or-treating with a date, you might be too old to trick-or-treat.

If taxes are withheld from your paycheck, you might be too old to trick-or-treat.

If the person at the door keeps putting handfuls of candy in your bag while saying, "Please don't hurt me," you might be too old to trick-or-treat.


Poor Herman Cain. If he had been a Democrat, nobody would have cared about sexual harassment. Sexual harassment is only a big deal when a Republican does it.

Bill Clinton was known to be a womanizer and Democrats nominated him anyway, even refusing to convict him in his impeachment for perjury because "everyone lies about sex."

Barney Frank's constituents reelected him for doing far worse things than Republicans resign over. The media never mention his outrageous misdeeds anymore, because Democrats can do anything and it's OK.

But for Republicans, even obviously false charges, like the lies about Clarence Thomas, never go away.

And if a Republican who is also black ever actually did anything, the racists of the Left will get rid of him as fast as they can, because he doesn't fit their racial stereotype of what all black people have to be.

Any black person who doesn't fit their racial profile is a constant contradiction of the Leftist fantasy of blacks who all need to be "saved" by white liberals.

Poor Herman Cain. There's no room for any kind of mistake or ambiguity in the private life of a Republican, especially an African-American, who wants to run for President.


My favorite tee-shirt of the week: "English doesn't borrow from other languages. English follows other languages down dark alleys, knocks them over and goes through their pockets for loose grammar."

There was a time when I would have sneered at this, because languages borrow vocabulary, not grammar.

But I would have been wrong. For instance, why does English stick forms of the word "do" in front of verbs, particularly questions?

We say, "Why did you go?" instead of the Indo-European norm: "Why went you?" We say, "What did you say?" instead of "What said you?"

We use it constantly in negatives, even to the point of absurdity: "Why didn't you do it?" Did ... do? Why not just "Why did you it not?"

Of course the latter sounds awkward and absurd in English -- but that's the way most other European tongues handle such issues. Where did our weird "did" and "do" constructions come from?

Linguist John McWhorter makes a solid case that English picked up this feature from the British language (ancestral Welsh) spoken by women whom the Anglo-Saxons conquered and took into their homes.

Instead of learning to conjugate all those Anglo-Saxon verbs, these British captives/concubines/wives adapted a feature of their native language, applied it to Anglo-Saxon, and said "do" or "did" plus the unconjugated infinitive.

It is only natural, then, that their children would learn to speak as their mothers did -- Anglo-Saxon, but greatly simplified.

That change from Old English is not mere vocabulary -- the verb "to do" is perfectly good Anglo-Saxon. What's strange is the usage of it. They did borrow it from Welsh, just as I did say.

So now I think that tee-shirt quote is really smart. In fact, it's even better than the original quotation (from James Nicoll) that inspired it:

"The problem with defending the purity of the English language is that English is about as pure as a cribhouse whore. We don't just borrow words; on occasion, English has pursued other languages down alleyways to beat them unconscious and rifle their pockets for new vocabulary."

I have no idea what distinguishes a "cribhouse whore" from any other kind. I don't even know what a cribhouse is, and I'll thank you to keep in mind that I don't want to know.

To order your own copy of this shirt, go here .


One of the best things about the internet is when somebody comes up with a simple idea that allows other people to indulge their creativity, their sense of humor, their sense of truth.

One such website is DearBlankPleaseBlank.com, which is exactly what it sounds like: Open letters to anybody from anybody.

The contributors have been fantastically creative, coming up with letters to and from impossible -- yet completely apt -- correspondents.

It is impossible to do more than sample some of my favorites from http://dearblankpleaseblank.com/. Though I make my living as a "creative guy," I wouldn't even dream of offering contributions of my own -- I can't think of any that are in the league of what's already there. Yet braver (or smarter) people than me are constantly adding to it.

The most common technique is to make the signature line a surprise or a clincher that revises or expands the meaning of all that went before.

Dear Monopoly banker,
We all know you are cheating.
The Other Players.

Dear Mom,
My room was clean ... then I got dressed.
Girls Everywhere.

Dear Life,
Why can't you be a computer? I just want to delete the history and restart.

Dear Switch,
Nothing turns me on quite like you do.

Dear Winnie the Pooh,
We have the same middle name!
Jack the Ripper.

Letters that serve as mini-reviews:

Dear Elevator Scenes in Movies,
How long of an elevator are you riding?

Dear Walmart,
Please stop using five people to greet me, and put them on a register.
Been Standing in Line for an Hour.

Dear Disney Channel,
I'm a teenager, I can act like an idiot, I can't sing, and I am a horrible actor.
Where Do I Sign?

Letters about boys and girls together:

Dear Girl I Just Said "You look nice today" to,
No, you look nice every day, but you look extra-nice today ... no, you look extra-nice every day, but you look special today ... no, you look special every day, but...
Flustered Guy.

Dear Boy Who Just Stuck Up for His Sister,
You just became 10x hotter.
Girls Everywhere.

Dear Guy Next Door,
No matter how many times you walk by my apartment slowly while I'm baking, you're not getting a cupcake.
Girl Next Door.

Dear Boy in a Class of 15 Freezing Girls,
Offering your jacket to a girl is like offering up a piece of your soul...
Choose Wisely.

Dear Girl I Like Who Says Her Hands Are Cold but Won't Accept My Gloves,
How about you just take one of my gloves, and we can hold each other's gloveless hands?
Win, Win

Dear Boyfriend,
When I asked, "What are you wearing?" And you replied with, "Cookie Monster jammies," I knew you were the one.
Enough Said.

Letters about our bodies:

Dear Diet,
If I wasn't supposed to have midnight snacks, why is there a light in the fridge?

Dear Period,
Are you going to show up soon, or should I call the Vatican?

Dear Overweight People at the Gym,
Ignore the rude people complaining about your short shorts and remember that no matter how slow you're going, you're always moving faster than the ones at home on the couch.
Your Future Healthy Self.

Dear People Who Think I'm Not Cool Because I Don't Want Tattoos,
You don't put a bumper sticker on a Ferrari...

Letters about School:

Dear Teachers,
We don't get mad when you don't finish grading our papers, so please don't get mad when we can't finish our homework.
Students Have Jobs Too

Dear Hogwarts Students,
I'm pretty sure you're the only students that actually look forward to going back to school.
Every Other Student in the World.

Dear Kindergartners,
If you don't like nap time, give it to someone who will appreciate it.
High Schoolers.

Letters from Nature:

Dear Neat and Perfectly Parted Hair,
Let me fix that for you.
The Wind.

Dear Autumn,
Without me, you're just windy, wet and annoying.
Crunchy Leaves.

Dear People Who Ask If Turtles Without Shells Are Naked or Homeless,
They're dead.
Stop Watching Cartoons and Learn Some Anatomy.

E-mail this page
Copyright © 2024 Hatrack River Enterprises Inc. All rights reserved.
Reproduction in whole or in part without permission is prohibited.